This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Friday, January 31, 2014

How I would have done the Star Wars prequels

I have a deep, dark confession to make: I actually enjoyed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Granted, it suffered from the same CGI-overkill that plagued the Star Wars prequels. I can also see why fans didn't care for aliens (or 'inter-dimensional beings' as Indy creator George Lucas preferred to call them) inserted into the story, as the previous three Indy films were more religious-based. But it was a treat seeing Harrison Ford don the famous fedora and whip again. Although he clearly aged since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), he slipped back into the role so effortlessly it was almost as if no time had passed at all (similar to seeing Leonard Nimoy reprise Spock again in the last two Star Trek movies). Bringing Karen Allen's Marion back was another plus since many say she was the best of Indy's love interests.
I suppose I'm kinder to Crystal Skull than the Star Wars prequels because, when all's said and done, Crystal Skull was simply an entry in a beloved series that was less than stellar.
In contrast, the prequels are more deserving of criticism because they actually re-write aspects of what endeared people to the original Star Wars trilogy. The fact that Hayden Christensen was inserted into Return of the Jedi (1983) is, as far as I'm concerned, just as bad as Greedo firing first in the revised Star Wars (1977) because it changes the narrative of both characters and story. Red Letter Media summed it up best in his review when he stated that one of the biggest problems with the prequels was that it made Anakin out to be too central to the Star Wars universe in that he was prophesied as being the one destined to 'bring balance to the Force' (maybe George should have read the Harry Potter series to see how to properly write a character who is pre-ordained for greatness), whereas Vader, in the original trilogy, was part of a bigger story. Having the character basically be, as Red Letter Media called him, 'Space Jesus'(the character apparently had no father) was way too over the top.
In the original trilogy, Luke was an everyday character, which made it easy for many to put themselves in his shoes-not so for the way Anakin was played in the prequels. There is also the fact that the universal appeal of the Force itself was ruined when George introduced us to midichlorians, which are apparently little things in someone's blood that determine if a person can be a Jedi. I won't even go into other bothersome aspects such as R2-D2 and C-3PO appearing(don't get me wrong, I love both those characters, but they had no place in the prequels because it contradicts certain aspects of the original trilogy), Anakin building 3PO, Yoda fighting with a lightsaber like he's the Tazmanian Devil and, yes, Jar Jar Binks.
In my previous entry, I noted that The Godfather Part III (1990) had the same anticipation, and generated the same disappointment, as the prequels. I then realized that there was a 16-year gap between The Godfather Part II (1974) and Part III, as well as a 16-year gap between Jedi and The Phantom Menace (1999). It's an interesting coincidence that such a gap would lead to such disappointment from fans.
While Part III has its good points, The Godfather series should have ended with Part II but the prequels were a story that many fans (including me) were making, at least in their own minds, since Jedi came out. Luke seeing the spirits of his old man, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda smiling at him at Jedi's end allowed us to imagine the story of how these three were proud comrades-in-arms once upon a time only for tragedy to tear them apart before Luke eventually reunites them.
So, I've decided to do something many blogs have done before, which is to give my own ideas on how I would have done the prequels. Before I begin, I will say that there were elements of the prequels I liked. So my own ideas for them will have those elements included. To that end, I will keep the titles of each of the prequels. Once they were announced, the titles of the first two prequels were criticized by some fans. Granted, a title can often be misleading, such as Batman (1989), which has the title character (played by Michael Keaton) taking a backseat to Jack Nicholson's Joker in terms of both screen time and characterization, or (to beat a dead horse yet again) Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), which turned out to be no more faithful to the title novel than many of the other adaptations of Dracula. But a title, more often than not, has little impact on the quality of the actual movie itself.
Secondly, despite the criticism and the Golden Raspberry Awards he received, I have nothing against the casting of Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. If any improvement was needed, it's that the character should have been written differently, not necessarily that a different actor was needed. Christensen has delivered good performances as anyone who has seen Life as a House (2001) and Shattered Glass can tell you.

1. The Phantom Menace: I would start with having Christensen play Anakin in this film. Lucas having the character as a very small boy was superfluous to say the least (check out this article on Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin in Menace, and it's quite sad how he's turned out). I would have Obi-Wan Kenobi encountering Anakin and persuading Yoda to train him. Yoda could be reluctant due to Anakin's reckless nature.
One of their first assignments could be to assist Senator (not Queen) Amidala, whose planet is under siege by a growing force controlled by Darth Tyranus and his aide Darth Maul. Tyranus, unbeknownst to the Jedi, has a pre-Emperor Palpatine in his pocket. During the course of the film, Obi-Wan and Anakin's friend Qui-Gon Jinn could be murdered by Tyranus. The film could end with Tyranus and Maul escaping and with Anakin becoming a Jedi and beginning a romantic relationship with Amidala.

2. Attack of the Clones: Obi-Wan could be spending his time tracking Tyranus and Maul in order to avenge Qui-Gon's death. Anakin notes this obsession, which leads to his own in protecting Amidala, to whom he later proposes. At the same time, Palpatine is secretly plotting against Tyranus as his own political career is expanding. Obi-Wan and Anakin could eventually track down Tyranus just as he's unleashing his new clone army against the Republic. Obi-Wan and Anakin could then have lightsaber duels with Maul and Tyranus, in which Maul is killed by Obi-Wan but Tyranus, after critically injuring Anakin in their duel, escapes.

3. Revenge of the Sith: The Republic is now breaking apart because of the Clone Wars, which allows Palpatine to rise and declare himself Emperor. The war has also separated Anakin and Amidala, which prevents her from informing him that she is pregnant. Anakin also has visions of her dying. These visions could lead to him deducing that Palpatine is in league with Tyranus. Anakin could then barely defeat Tyranus before fighting the Emperor. But Anakin's fight with Tyranus weakens him enough for the Emperor to overpower him. But, instead of finishing him off, the Emperor could use Tyranus's cloning technology on him, similar to what happened to Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation's "The Best of Both Worlds" two-parter, in which he's kidnapped by the Borg, who proceed to turn him into one of them. (In Jedi, Yoda told Luke "Don't underestimate the powers of the Emperor, or suffer your father's fate you will!"). In both cases, these are good men who are overtaken by forces who use their power and knowledge to exterminate their own people.
Anakin fighting both Tyranus and the Emperor could be against the advice of Obi-Wan, Yoda and the other Jedi, who could implore Anakin not to go it alone. Hence, his recklessness and arrogance could still contribute to his fall to the Dark Side.
Thus, when Luke cuts off his hand in Jedi, Anakin could slowly but surely re-emerge since the technology that has imprisoned him for so long has been compromised. This is why it takes him a moment before he saves his son by killing the Emperor.
As Anakin falls to the Emperor, Amidala could give birth to Luke and Leia, but the war could separate her from Luke, who finds his way into Obi-Wan's hands. But she and Leia could make it to safety (hence, why Leia remembers her in Jedi) and Obi-Wan and Luke end up on Tatooine after seeing Yoda off on Degobah, since Luke says in The Empire Strikes Back(1980) that it looked familiar. So, we don't necessarily have to see the death of Amidala as we did in the prequels. Details like that don't necessarily need to be explained outright. For instance, in Jedi, Luke introduces himself to Jabba the Hutt as a Jedi. This led me to assume that he had already gone back to Degobah in between Empire and Jedi, because I would hardly think he would introduce himself to someone in that manner unless he had further training. His rescue of Han Solo from Jabba could then be seen as a test of sorts, since Luke then goes back to Degobah afterward and Yoda tells him that his only remaining task is to confront Vader again.

When someone is disappointed with a film, he/she may say something like "I could write something better than that." Over the years, I've seen many films that have given me the same reaction. I guess this is a reason why I'm now a writer myself-so I could actually try to write something better.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Great Trailers for Bad Movies

We've all seen and even loved movie trailers. Yet, they don't seem to get as much attention as the movies they are promoting. Whether the movie in question becomes a classic, an embarrassment, or forgotten, its trailer usually isn't given much lip service after the fact except by movie fanatics such as yours truly. Still, as Jamie Lee Curtis said in Coming Soon, even bad movies should have a little good footage.
So, to ring in 2014, I have decided to look at trailers that did a great job whetting my appetite for films which, alas, turned out to suck. Ironically, USA Today recently posted an article on the same subject.

1. Dune (1984): This film, directed by David Lynch and based on the classic epic book by Frank Herbert, had the same anticipation that would greet Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The previous year's release and success of Return of the Jedi only added to the potential for this flick to be another science fiction classic. Sadly, the film's budget and jumbled narrative (the exposition given by Virginia Madsen at the beginning of the film can be seen as an omen of what's to come) ended up turning this film into a bomb. Lynch, depending on what source you read, either was disinterested in the film from the start or was frustrated with the restrictions the studio and legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis put on him. While Lynch's original, longer version is now available, he's kept the film at arm's length since its release. In either case, a complex read such as Dune could not possibly have fit into 2-3 hours of screen time (imagine if Jackson had made Lord of the Rings only that long). But the movie's trailer did a great job at projecting the epic feel that the story should have had:

2. The Godfather Part III (1990): The only thing more anticipated that this movie, which was released Christmas Day, was Christmas itself. Francis Ford Coppola, of course, had scored Oscars for writing The Godfather (1972) and writing, directing, and producing The Godfather Part II (1974). By the start of the 1990s, though, he was in need of money, which is the main reason he accepted Paramount's long-standing offer to direct a third Godfather movie. Like the Star Wars prequels, the film falls flat on its face even though it tries to bring back many beloved aspects of previous installments. In the plus column, Al Pacino is great reprising his star-making role as Michael Corleone, and the climax at the opera looks great.
Many say that Sofia Coppola, who plays Michael's daughter, is the worst part of the movie, but I thought the worst part was the movie's attempts to bring the Vatican (specifically the real-life events of the Papal Banking Scandal and the death of Pope John Paul I) into the narrative. Even putting aside the fact that Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, which was released the same year, became the classic everyone thought this movie would be (in the same way that 2012's The Avengers was the great superhero film that everyone expected The Dark Knight Rises to be), the film's trailer only heightened our anticipation for what should have been a wonderful Christmas gift:

3. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992): It's sad that I have two films from Coppola on this list. As far as I'm concerned, though, this film had even more specific criteria to meet than The Godfather Part III. This is because Coppola and screenwriter James V. Hart kept insisting that this film was the definitive adaptation of Stoker's classic book. But, despite great production values and a perfectly cast Sir Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, the film was a huge letdown because it was NOT the definitive take on the book that Coppola and Hart said it would be. The main reason for this disappointment was due to the misguided decision of having Mina (Winona Ryder) as the reincarnated love of the Count (Gary Oldman). Perhaps the film's tagline, 'Love Never Dies,' should have tipped us off, but, as anyone who has actually read the book can tell you, there is no such past romance between these two characters. Making this aspect the main focus of the film makes Dracula far less menacing than he is in the book (never mind Bela Lugosi's or Sir Christopher Lee's famous portrayals of the character). The trailer seems to at least promise us a thrilling joyride:

4. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002): The fourth and final movie from Star Trek: The Next Generation came with the tagline 'A Generation's Final Journey Begins.' Sadly, the film itself, like the previous three TNG movies, becomes only concerned with being an action movie at the expense of both a coherent story and the aspects which made TNG such a great series. The film involves Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew fighting a man named Shinzon(Tom Hardy), whom the Romulans made to resemble Picard years earlier before discarding him. But now Shinzon re-emerges with a plan to conquer the Federation.
But the reason this film lacks the effectiveness of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), which was the final voyage for the original Trek crew, is that none of the events have any emotional impact, especially the climax when Data (Brent Spiner) sacrifices himself. The only scene that I truly liked was the ending when Picard bids farewell to Riker (Jonathan Frakes) as the latter heads off to captain the U.S.S. Titan with Troi (Marina Sirtis), who is now his wife. But its trailer at least gave us the hope that the film would be as great as Star Trek VI. Alas, this film reinforced the idea that TNG's curtain call should have been its magnificent series finale "All Good Things..."

5. The Star Wars prequel trilogy (1999, 2002, 2005): Like The Godfather Part III, the Star Wars prequels had a great deal of hype before they came out. But, while Coppola returned to the Corleone Family to raise money, George Lucas decided to make the prequels because Jurassic Park (1993) had shown how far his company, Industrial Light and Magic, had come in the field of special effects since he made the original Star Wars trilogy. Lucas had, more or less, exiled himself from moviemaking during that time, despite his input in films such as the Indiana Jones series and, infamously, Howard the Duck (1986). The sad thing is he did not take the time to hone his writing skills during his self-imposed exile. As a result, all three prequels were plagued with the same problems, such as bland acting (wasting Sir Christopher Lee in these films was unforgivable) and overused SFX. The first prequel, The Phantom Menace, is regarded as the worst of the three films, but the following two, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, really weren't any better, because, as the documentaries behind each movie will show you, Lucas spent most of the time parked in front of a green screen simply saying 'Action!' I suspected I'd be disappointed in Sith by the time it came out, but felt I should see it for, if nothing else, a sense of closure.